Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Herald Angel Sinks

Over the years the Monterey Herald, our daily newspaper, has been bought and sold several times. After a few months of settling in, each new owner starts shaving away at the good stuff. One previous owner didn't wait, and fired the entire reporting staff and asked them to reapply.

The excuse given this time is internet competetion. They have to stay ahead of the game, they say, to remain competetive.

Someone please explain to me how cutting back on content and reducing the quality of your product makes you more competitive.

A few months ago the Sunday Herald dropped Parade magazine and replaced it with the inferior USA Weekend, a product of USA Today. No more Mayilyn Vos Savant, no more Howard Huge, no more articles by famous scientists. USA is just a trite imitation with no content of any value. I flip through it every Sunday hoping to find something interesting, but I barely read a word.

Next came a formatting change for the Sunday leisure section. No problem there. The content didn't change, just the shape of the pages to a tabloid format. If that helps save money I can deal with that. I don't  mind if they change the phycical format of the entire paper, as long as the content is good.

But it's more than just format changes. One of the paper's most popular sections, Opinion, has been hacked back to almost nothing. Back in the day of decent journalism, The Herald had two full pages of op-ed Monday through Friday, and three on Sunday. That was 17 pages per week. The daily pages included three or more syndicated columnists, an original Herald editorial or two, and one editorial chosen from a variety of other well-known papers.

Under one owner, the daily opinions went down to one page per day. But they did add a Saturday op-ed page, which gave their spin doctors a way to boast that they were actually expanding their Opinion pages, even though the weekly op-ed page total had dropped from 17 to 9.

Then they stopped writing local editorials, and simply reprinted editorials from other newspapers. Now and then, when something really big happens, there will be a home-made editorial, but not very often. Recently they've condensed their views into a single weekly editorial column of one or two sentence "Rants & Raves" which say what their people think, but not why.

Then last month the Sunday Opinion section was cut back to a single page, bringing the weekly total down to 7 pages.

If that wasn't bad enough, next they messed with my funnies. Last year with great fanfare they brought out a new comics page. Based on reader's votes, several comics were dropped in favor of some new ones. I was overjoyed to see my one of my favorites, Mutts, came out at the top of the new page.

But it was not to last. When the Sunday Leisure section was reformatted, they moved the kids game page to the back of the Sunday comics. The rest of the Sunday comic section was crammed into the three remaining pages with each comic being shrunk to microscopic print.

Then, a couple weeks ago, they killed Mutts on Sunday. In the daily paper Mutts only appears if they don't have advertising to  put in its place. I love Mutts. I love its simplicity and gentle, loving humor. It is a great comic for kids (future newspaper subscribers) learning to read, and great for adults who can appreciate the more subtle elements of its humor. 

So the Herald has now royally screwed up my two favorite sections in an effort to "stay competitive." I notice they're not reducing subscription rates to match the reduced content. If they become any more competitive there'll be little reason to keep paying for it.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

The right thing

I've been so busy I haven't had time to publicly thank the Monterey City Council for doing the right thing with the Catellus Property near Wharf #2. Until now.

For the uninitiated, here's the background story. The Catellus property once belonged to the Southern Pacific railroad, which leased two buildings to two local businesses. One was Adventures by the Sea, which uses the facility for indoor/outdoor beach parties. Monterey Bay Kayaks was the other. After the city bought the property, there was a call to demolish these buildings and put their tenants out of business. A previous city council came close to doing so.

The arguments against the businesses were to open up views from Del Monte Avenue, and keep private enterprise out of public  parks. Arguments in favor of the businesses were that they provided the public with social and recreational opportunities that otherwise would not exist.

I watched the council meeting live on TV. I was relieved to see the council agree that these were valuable businesses. A motion was made to evaluate the feasibility of moving them into a new structure at the foot of Wharf #2. The Mayor, concerned about costs, argued that alternative plans should also be explored, such as expanding the Adventures by the Sea building to accommodate both businesses. The motion also included a provision to extend the leases ten years, with the understanding that Monterey Bay Kayaks might move into the an expanded Adventures building.

It was a good decision. The "viewshed" people will probably get to see the Kayaks building torn down someday, and maybe the Adventures building, too, but not until an appropriate on-site alternative is available for them to move into.